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Early GOP debate takeaways: No breakout undercard performers

BOULDER, Colo. — The four Republican presidential candidates who aren’t in the top 10 in an average of national polls took the stage Wednesday ahead of the third prime-time GOP debate of the 2016 campaign. It’s the third time South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former New York Gov. George Pataki have been part of the so-called undercard.

Here are a few takeaways from the early event in Colorado.


Former technology executive Carly Fiorina performed so well in the undercard event at the first GOP debate that she rose enough in subsequent national polls to earn a place on the main stage at the next event. It doesn’t seem likely that any of the candidates in Wednesday’s second-stage meetup will repeat that feat.

At times, they seemed desperate for attention. After being swatted away by moderators on other questions, Pataki blurted at one point, “Let me try to get a word in edgewise.” Another time, Jindal said, “Y’all can clap,” as he tried in vain to entice the audience to respond to his tax plan. Few did.


Graham left no doubt he is running largely on a single-issue platform: national security. Asked why he is likely to support a Congressional budget deal, he answered, seemingly as a non-sequitur, “Let me tell you what is real: The threat to our homeland.”

He said he would vote for the recently agreed-to budget deal between the White House and congressional GOP leaders, which staunch conservatives largely reject, solely because it increases funding to the Defense Department.

Later, asked whether corporations that shelter profits overseas to avoid U.S. taxes “owe” anything to America, Graham again returned to national security: “The ones I’m most worried about are those in uniform — they need a commander in chief who knows what the hell they’re doing.”


The moderators from the CNBC cable network asked Graham if his positions on climate change and immigration meant he should be on the Democratic debate stage. Yet it was Pataki who often sounded the most Democratic. He took his fellow Republicans to task on climate change, for saying either that it is not real or that humans are not contributing to it.

“We question science that everyone accepts,” he said. “Instead, we should embrace innovation.” He also said Wall Street is too powerful — not the most popular position for Republicans who often stress the need to boost businesses. “There’s a corrupt connection between Wall Street and Washington,” he said, echoing a refrain more common to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.


In what may be a reminder of the candidates’ standing in the race, the question that generated the best lines of the night wasn’t about policy, but a “lighting round” ask about their top three smartphone apps.

Jindal says he must be “the last American” who doesn’t have an iPhone. Instead he uses a BlackBerry. Pataki says he uses ride-hailing app Uber, because he no longer has a driver now that he’s out of office. Santorum clicks on the NHL app and The Wall Street Journal’s.

Graham won laughs by saying the only reason he has an iPhone is because he gave his cell number to Donald Trump, who famously read it aloud at a campaign rally earlier this year. “Donald has done more to upgrade my technology than my whole staff,” he said.

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